Ships, boats and things that float

Ships have been featuring quite a bit in my life. In particular I find it incredible how the huge hulks of metal can float on water whilst the little ones stay upright. I’m not a water baby, much preferring to fly (it’s more likely to be a quick end) than boats (slow, sharks and cold water). This hasn’t stopped me travelling by boat on occasion but more significantly being around people who like boats.

An abiding memory are two cousins whom I hadn’t seen for many years at their 21st birthday party. They were water babies and their party was at a lake where those who wanted could waterski. During the afternoon a storm brew and the boats were being tossed around. Never fear the two were out there tightening the ropes and whatever needed doing to prevent the boats sinking. The rest of us watched hands in mouths and I recall our grandmother freaking out at her son for not helping his children. He nonchalantly replied ‘They know what they’re doing, they’ve done it often enough.’ My other abiding memory was joining my uncle and aunt on their yacht (thankfully in a quiet harbour) from where we attended a party on a huge cargo ship. A potent punch was the highlight of the day but alas I cannot share ther recipe as it went AWOL some years ago. It well deserved its skull and crossbone warning.

These two annecdotes lead beautifully into two autobiographies I’ve read about a life on the water, enhanced by having met the authors.

George King’s A love of ships (1991) described as “The story of BP’s huge growth during the tanker boom, told by a Scotsman who worked for the company for 40 years, working his way up from midshipman, to captain, to managing director of BP Tankers with 100 tankers to supervise.” ( All I can add to this apt summary is to be sure to read the book with a Glaswegian accent. I met George well into his retirement and a more unassuming man you couldn’t imagine.

Martinique Stilwell’s Thinking up a Hurricane (2012) I happened to be in South Africa when I heard there was a book launch of Niki’s book at Love Books in Melville. Naturally I had to buy a copy and what an honest account of growing up on a yacht. It clearly demystifies the glamour of yachts in tranquil blue harbours we see on telly.

Linking in with TSL’s Great War in Africa imprint, three books come to mind:

Tarzan of Greystoke ended up being born in Africa when the ship his parents were travelling on sank off the African coast. In volume 7 Tarzan participates in the First Wrld War in East Africa. Another African shipwreck book is The Caliban Shore by Stephen Taylor (2004)

The African Queen by CS Forester (1934) The film is wonderful but I much preferred the book written before the movie version. It tells the story of a little boat going to sink the German von Goten (today’s MV Liemba still serving on Lake Tanganyika). The factual account behind the battles on Lake Tanganyika was published by TSL in 2016.

Finally, John Jewell’s factual Dhows at Mombasa (1976) John first went to Africa in 1918 when his mother joined his father, a doctor who had been On Call throughout the East African Campaign.

Ships feature in TSL published novels The Celebration Husband (2015) by Maya Alexandri – a novel set in the First World War in East Africa, and in Broken Ties of Time by Josie Arden – a family saga stretching over 400 years.

And a final nod to the article which promoted this post being completed.

First published 23 July 2016